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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrNicknamed "Little Paris" during the interwar period, because of its sophisticated Belle Époque architecture and eclectic nightlife, the Romanian capital city is rising in popularity among tourists and backpack travelers alike. Though the Belle Époque architecture has been more or less isolated in the historical center, the nightlife is at its peak. Bucharest stands out today for its plethora of options when it comes to events and locales, its accessible prices compared to Western Europe, educated people and beautiful women.
HistoryAccording to legends, the city was founded by a Romanian shepherd named Bucur, whose name is a derivative of the word "joy". He used to play the flute and trade his wine to local traders, who named the city after him.
The first mention of the Citadel of Bucharest dates back to 1459, when Vlad the Impaler, made famous by the legend of Dracula, made the city his new seat of power. With the Romanian provinces being repeatedly split apart, the city did not become a permanent capital until 1862. In the second half of the 19th century, while Romania was a monarchy, Bucharest had known its most prosperous period and a boost in population marked the beginning of an urban development wave. During this time, street electricity and horse drawn trams were introduced. During the communist regime, from 1947 until 1989, the city continued to grow, only in socialist fashion. After the 1989 revolution and the overthrow of the communist regime, the city immersed into a modernization and a transition period.
ArchitectureWhile classic architecture can still be seen in certain places in Bucharest, most of it remained in the historical center in a variation of styles, from Baroque to Art Nouveau, elsewhere being mixed with modern and socialist architecture, urban planning not being its forte. While the communist apartment buildings dominate the periphery, giving the city a rather gloomy look, Nicolae Ceaușescu 's regime gave Bucharest an architectural icon: the Palace of the Parliament.
Historical CenterThe historical center used to be the trading hub of the city in the beginning of the 15th century. Situated between Calea Victoriei and Elisabeta Blvd, this is where vendors and craftsmen came to sell their merchandise, as the street names stand testimony: ‘Lipscani’ derived from the German merchants of Leipzig, ‘Blănari’ meaning “fur makers”, ‘Covaci’ meaning “blacksmiths”, and so on. Now the old center is a vivid maze of pedestrian cobblestone streets, teeming with restaurants, bars, and night clubs, whose unique hectic atmosphere is definitely worth checking out. It's the part of the city that never sleeps, regardless of the day of the week or the time of year.
Cişmigiu GardenThe oldest and most popular park of the city, Cişmigiu was designed in 1845 by Carl Meyer, a German architect, and opened to the public in 1860. Its vegetation is a mix of local flora with exotic plants brought from the botanical gardens in Vienna. It displays a bird reservation and a lake on which you can take boat rides with rented rowboats, lots of beer gardens, and a chess area.
Curtea Veche: Old Princely CourtIn the middle of the historical center lie the remains of Curtea Veche (Old Princely Court), a stronghold built by Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) in the 15th century. Legend has it that he used to keep prisoners of war underneath the court, in an underground network of cells extending farther beneath the city. All that can be seen today is several arches and walls, a Corinthian column and a few tombstones. The document mentioning Bucharest for the first time was also found here, signed by Vlad himself. In the proximity of the court lies the Old Court Church, considered to be the oldest church in Bucharest, dating back to 1559, and preserving some of the original frescoes.
Palace of ParliamentThis colossal structure was built by Nicolae Ceauşescu, and it is currently the second largest administrative building in the world in surface, after the Pentagon, and the third one in volume, after Cape Canaveral and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Designed in 1977 and finished in 1997, it took 700 architects and 20,000 workers to complete the structure. Intended as a symbol of power and a seat for the government, the structure has no less than 1,100 rooms, 12 stories, a 2.5 tons chandelier with 7,000 light bulbs, and an underground bunker. It was built solely with Romanian materials by its best artisans.
Currently, it serves as the house of parliament and can be visited with a guided tour, when the senate is not in session.
National Art MuseumWhat is now the National Museum of Art used to be the Royal Palace for King Carol II and his son, Mihai I, until 1947, when communism replaced monarchy. Built in neo-classical style, the building also saw the coup led by Mihai I to overthrow the Nazi government during World War II and bring Romania to the Allies' cause.
Romanian AthenaeumDesigned by the French architect, Albert Galleron, also the designer of the Romania's National Bank, the Romanian Athenaeum was built in 1888, almost completely from donated money. After the initial funders ran out of money, the fundraising project "Daţi un leu pentru ateneu" ("Give a leu for the Athenaeum") saved the building.
Resembling an ancient temple, the Athenaeum has ionic columns on the facade, and Doric columns inside. The lobby's ceiling is enameled with gold leaf and rings of balconies along a spiral staircase. The concert hall is adorned with frescoes and it boasts exceptional acoustics, being the best place for concerts in Bucharest and the home of the Romanian Philharmonic.
The Arch of TriumphAnother element of similarity with Paris, the Arcul de Triumf was built in 1922, initially of wood. It was meant as a monument in honor of the heroes of World War I. The stone arch was completed in 1936. The rooftop is accessible by an internal staircase and offers a panoramic view of the city.
Hanul lui Manuc (Manuc's Inn)The oldest inn and restaurant in Bucharest, Manuc's Inn dates back to 1808, when it was built by a very rich Armenian merchant named Emanuel Marzaian, known as Manuc by the Turks. The place is of historical importance, as this is where the peace negotiation for the Russian-Turkish War took place in 1812. Being a favorite locale for aristocrats and rich merchants since its own time, Manuc's Inn has preserved and enhanced the style and good service, and still serves as a hotel and restaurant in the spirit of the 19th century bourgeoisie, with its own wine cellar and pastry keep.
ChambersIf you are looking for something out of the ordinary, you should try Chambers. This is a game you can play with your friends and consists of escaping a room in under 60 minutes. The experience is similar to a puzzle, nothing scary or extreme as the rooms are normal, but you have to follow the clues inside to figure out how to escape. The price for one game is €8 ($9.20), it is playable in 2 to 5 members and you have to book in advance.
ShoppingBucharest has many shopping malls and centers, AFI Cotroceni being the biggest and Unirea Shopping Mall being the most central, and at least one big mall in every district should be easy to find. The main avenue in the center is braced with shops and if you are looking for something more old-school, the historical center is full of artisan and antique shops.
DiningBucharest offers many places to dine, from all types of cuisines and tastes for all budgets. The historical center is full of locales that fall in the average category when it comes to pricing. Turkish food is very popular in Romania, and Dristor Kebab is the most prestigious and popular kebab restaurant in Bucharest with a type of kebab that really stands out from the usual trend.
The Regie district is the student area, full of campuses and cheap restaurants and pubs. If you find yourself here, you shouldn't miss the Regie cafeteria - the best place for traditional homemade Romanian food with student pricing - €3 ($3.45) for a complete meal.
For the luxurious meals, the historical center again offers the best and most famous restaurants in Bucharest. Beside Manuc's Inn mentioned above is Carul cu Bere (literally "The Cart with Beer"), another restaurant with a reputation that dates back to 1879, and it still maintains the original setting and atmosphere of its glory days while offering the freshest and most faithfully cooked traditional Romanian dishes, for which it gained the Best Romanian Restaurant Prize in 2013.
HotelsWhen it comes to accommodation, Bucharest offers a wide range of hostels and hotels in all price ranges. Hotel Intercontinental located in the center, near the National Theater, is the most known hotel in Bucharest and is a landmark of the city.
TransportationThe Bucharest public transportation system consists of buses, trams, trolleybuses, light rail, and subway. The subway is the fastest and easiest way to travel long distances. A ticket with 2 fares is1 Eur. Taxis are also very cheap in Bucharest but always make sure the meter is turned on. Taxi drivers tend to boost prices and would sometimes take the longest route if they see that you don't your way around Bucharest.
SafetyBucharest has a very low crime rate compared to other European capitals. The number of crimes has dropped by 50% between 2000 and 2004, and by 7% during the last year. Organized crime has very low impact on public life, and the most common, though one seldom occurring crime is pickpocketing on buses.
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Author: aelumag. Last updated: Feb 27, 2015